Scripture: Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Psalm 51
Theme: The New Covenant/Lenten Communion Service
Title: Shhh - God's Speaking!
Jeremiah shares with us 1. The New Covenant - The Voice of Hope 2. The New Covenant - The Voice of Forgiveness 3. The New Covenant - The Voice of Abundant Living
Grace and peace from God our Father and from Jesus Christ our Messiah, Savior and LORD!
Imagine yourself setting in front of an addict who has relapsed, a juvenile who has once again misbehaved or a spouse who a repeat offender in the infidelity department. They are pouring out their hearts to you wanting you to forgive them one more time. Just one more time. They are wanting you to give them another chance. You can't even remember how many times you have had this same conversation.
You don't know what to do. You take to heart every word that they say. You stay quiet and reflective. You are doing your best to be supportive. You want to do what is best for them. You want things to be different. But back in the recesses of your mind a couple of questions keep shouting to be asked -
"How is this time going to be any different from last time?"
"What is going to happen this time that makes sure that we don't end up in this same position or even a worst position?"
Those questions are some that we can see in between the lines of our passage this morning. You can almost hear both of them being asked over and over again throughout the first 30 chapters of the book of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah's preaching was strong and hard hitting. It was straight to the point. When the prophet spoke he left no grey areas of confusion. His message - Judgment was coming to God's People. In fact, final and complete judgment was right at the door. It had already come to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and now it was coming to the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
Why? Why was judgment coming? Why was God seemingly turning His back on His people and allowing them to be exiled approximately 900 miles away to Babylon? That would be like our family being exiled to Havana, Cuba this morning with very little hope of every returning. In fact, history teaches us that some Jewish families only returned to the Promise Land in the 1950's after being gone for over 2,500 years.
Why was God turning them over to King Nebuchadnezzar? According to Jeremiah, it was all because of:
i. Sins of the fathers (generational sin)
ii. The refusal of God's people to Genuinely Repent
iii. The refusal of God's people to consistently obey God's Will
It was all because they had proven over and over again they could not and would not follow God.
Their generational sins had negatively transformed their hearts, minds and souls. The many years of sin, rebellion and wrongdoing had taken its toll on everyone and everything. The people of God had become so accustomed to living a lifestyle of sin that Jeremiah tells us that not only would they not change but the truth was they could not change. Sin had become their way of life. Sinful attitudes, thoughts and actions had become their habitus. Sin had infiltrated and infected every aspect of their culture. Sin had warped their psyche to the point they were embracing a life of sin without even being aware of it.
Their economy had been taken over by the sins greed and self-indulgence. Their legal system once founded on the Law and integrity had become a cesspool full of dishonesty, graft and deceit. Their government had become incompetent. The sins of bribery, corruption and fraud ruled the day. The basic family unit was being torn apart. Society was being overrun by crime, violence and cruelty. Everything was coming apart at the seams.
Even the Lord's Temple had itself been adversely infected by sin. No longer was it a place where Yahweh, the Good God of Creation, the One and Only True God was worshipped. No longer did the Ark of the Covenant reside in the Holy of Holies. All around the temple a variety of gods and goddesses were now being publicly worshiped and adored. An image of Asherah, the goddess of fertility and so called Queen of Heaven had become the focal point of public worship. Alongside her was the pagan worship of Tammuz, Ishtar and Baal along with the worship of the sun, moon and stars. The Kingdom of Judah had rejected monotheism for polytheism.
Furthermore, each of these so-called gods and goddesses endorsed the use of temple prostitutes. Prostitutes whose mission was to guide the worshippers by having a sensual encounter with them. It was believed that such an immoral union was the best way in which a worshipper could be one with a certain god or goddess. God's Holy Temple had become a den of lust, debauchery and immorality.
Things were so bad that the Prophet Ezekiel would say the following:
"As I live", says the Lord God, "neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done." (Ezekiel 16: 48). "Samaria did not commit half of your sins" (Ezekiel 16: 51).
The pictures that the prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah provide for us of the last days of the Southern Kingdom of Judah were those of a hopeless situation. The People of God had embraced evil. They no longer cared about ideas or thoughts about holiness, purity or righteousness.
Instead, they were turning to evil in ever increasing ways. Rather than creating a Promise Land of Goodness, Love and Grace on the earth as God had expected them to they were creating Hell (Gehenna) on Earth. The powers of evil, darkness, chaos, destruction and death had been given full control. Judah had given the keys of their kingdom to Satan and his demonic hordes.
There were a few who held out hope. They believed Jeremiah's message but they held out to the hope of some type of remnant. But even those were beginning to lose courage. They began to believe even if at some point there was a future what would prevent the People of God from doing the same evil things that they had done since the days of old. What would prevent them from turning their backs on God, choosing evil and rebelling against the LORD? What hope did they or for that matter any people have in being able to be faithful to God?
Jeremiah 31:31-34 provides for us God's answer and solution. It is here that we hear Jeremiah sharing God's message of Hope, of Transformation and of Full Salvation through His Holy Spirit. It is here that we hear a vocal message that was not only meant for the People of Judah some 2, 500 years ago but one that we need to hear today as well.
For many today believe that there is not much hope for modern day America. Many believe that we have turned a corner and have allowed the Devil and his hordes of demons to get the keys to our kingdom as well. Many believe that the hearts, minds and souls of Americans are increasing year after year becoming darker and darker. They believe that our land is being taken over by greed, wickedness, immorality, idolatry and pride. They believe that the generations of Americans who are now growing up not only don't want to change but are in fact powerless to change. They believe that hope is lost.
But let's take a moment this morning and see what God wants to say to us through the Prophet Jeremiah about all of this. Let's hear God's Answer and Solution.
I. God Proclaims THE VOICE OF HOPE - The Voice that A New Covenant was Coming!
In one sense it was true that the Old Covenant could no longer exist. The marriage covenant between God and His People had been severed by their sins. The People had been repeatedly been unfaithful and had taken up other gods/goddesses as lovers and had abandoned God. The relationship was broken. The relationship was destroyed. No longer were the people even interested in being in covenant with the LORD. No longer did the people want to seek the LORD with all their hearts. No longer did they want to walk the paths of His commandments and righteousness. They wanted to choose their own paths to walk. They wanted to be creators of their own world. They wanted to make everything into their own image.
By the time we get to chapter 31 many of God's People had already been exiled to Babylon. And in a matter of a few months the whole kingdom would fall. History tells us that by the time the armies of Nebuchadnezzar got finished with Judah:
+She no longer possessed any land
+Her government was in shambles and in chains
+Her Temple had been ravaged, burned and torn down stone by stone
+The majority of her people were in exile - back into a life of slavery some 900 miles away from home
+Her economy was in ruins as the army had cut down all fruit trees and scattered rocks on every viable piece of farm land and had displaced all the merchants of industry.
+The People of God were once more enslaved body, mind and soul
And in the midst of all this pain and suffering the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, the Only God of Creation, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob reaches out to create a new relationship with His People. Since the old relationship was gone there needed to be a new one. And since mankind had found itself once again under the enslavement of sin, evil and death and could not free itself or help itself the LORD voices a new message - A New Covenant.
God would create a New Covenant. God would carve out a new path. God would do what would be necessary for mankind and God to be reconciled and reunited. God would initiate it all.
And that is the Key to the first part of this New Covenant. The New Covenant is not initiated by mankind's sudden spiritual awareness. The New Covenant does not come from the hearts, minds and souls of humankind in any form of fashion. The New Covenant comes from the heart of a loving God. A loving God who reaches down to humankind and seeks to rescue, redeem and restore. A loving God whom we see fulfills this New Covenant by giving Himself to die on a cross for all of our sins. A loving God who sends His Holy Spirit to convict us, cleanse us and infill us with His Holy Presence. A loving God who gives us the Voice of Hope.
II. The New Covenant is also - The Voice of Transformation/Forgiveness
"I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Pause for a moment and reflect on these words.
"I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Not only is the New Covenant initiated by God it comes with a compete and full pardon. This is justification to its extreme. This forgiveness is not conditional. It is complete and full forgiveness. Our sins are removed. They are remembered no more. They are gone forever and ever.
I don't know how God does it but I just know that God says that He does. God takes our sin(s) and removes them. He doesn't just cover them or gloss over them. God takes our sins and removes them once and for all.
This forgiveness is an amazing aspect of God's Love. This forgiveness of sin takes the idea of grace way up the ladder. In Psalm 51, King David prays that the LORD would graciously forgive him for a sin that was thought to be unforgiveable at the time. What God is saying here in this passage is such forgiveness is going to be part of the New Covenant. All sin in a person's life whether it is by commission or by omission is going to be able to be forgiven. Complete Forgiveness. Complete Atonement. Complete Justification.
The Lord's words to Jeremiah partner with His words to Isaiah recorded in Isaiah 1:18 - "Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow."
They partner up with the LORD's Words to Ezekiel recorded in Ezekiel 36:25
"Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. "
This idea of complete and full forgiveness was one unheard of in the ancient world. No god or goddess had either the power nor the inclination to completely forgive all sin(s). No god/goddesses that I know of wanted human beings to have that type of freedom or peace. Instead, the idea was that humans had to earn their salvation or at least offer the right type of sacrifice quite a number of times before anything like partial absolution could be granted.
Yet, here is the Good God of Creation, the True and Only One God paving the way of complete atonement for mankind. This is not simply a Get out of Jail Free Card. It is much more than that. It is grace beyond measure. It is more than starting over. It is being set free in the midst of your guilt, your pain and your suffering. It is having God's peace and love surround you and wash you clean. It is spiritual walking on water and being lifted up out of the pit of depression and despair. It is becoming a whole new creation.
At times, I am afraid in our country (USA) we take such radical forgiveness lightly. We seek what Dietrich Bonheoffer called cheap grace. We have often promoted the idea that with a few spoken half hearted words - poof - God forgives. Sin is gone. It's over. Yeah! Yeah for us! Now, let's go on until we sin again and we get to do this forgiveness thing all over again.
The reality is sin is a deal breaker. Sin is a killer. Sin puts up a barrier between us and our LORD. And here is the LORD saying - I will forgive all sin. I will break down all barriers. I will share sacred space with humans even though they have sinned and rebelled.
Could you image all the world leaders getting together and declaring that tomorrow there would be no barriers between any peoples, tribes or nations? That starting tomorrow we would all be global citizens free to travel and to share in one another's riches and resources. We would be free to live anywhere we choose. We would have access to the best that the world could offer. All because we are a human being on Planet Earth. Not because of our age, our gender, our race or where geographically we were born. Just because we are human then the globe is ours to share, to enjoy and to prosper.
If you can see just a glimpse of that then you can understand God's grace in forgiving our sins. We would think that such a world like that would be heaven on earth. A world in which human beings out of love for God and for one another decide to share, to invest in one another and to enjoy a life of peace and harmony. That would be a world without sin. And that is the world our LORD GOD is interested in giving to all of us. He wants to forgive us of all of our sins. Amazing!
III. The New Covenant is also - The Voice of ABUNDANT LIVING
Did you happen to notice those powerful words in verse 33?
"I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
+God initiates the New Covenant.
+A Covenant that proclaims that Complete and total forgiveness is ours to receive.
God then says that we also get to live a genuine human life here on earth by allowing Him to put His law into our minds and writing it on our hearts. We get to experience the life that in John 10:10 Jesus called "ABUNDANT LIVING". In other words - God comes to live within us via His Holy Spirit.
Experiencing the New Covenant means that we get to experience a spectacular Life Change. A change that involves experiencing a New Birth - being Born Again from Above. Being born as a New Creation. In Christ we literally become a New Person. We are no longer the same person we were before Christ.
The only way the Apostle Paul could explain it was to say that we have died to our sins and have been reborn by the power and presence of God's Holy Spirit. There is a spiritual and metaphysical transformation that happens in or lives.
Let me say it again, we are no longer the same person. Spiritually, emotionally, socially and even physically we are transformed. We go from being children of disobedience to becoming Children of Light. We go from being bound for Hell to becoming Citizens of Heaven. We go from being enslaved to a life of sin to being Free in Christ.
It also means that we are able to experience a renewing of our minds. In other words our minds are continually being healed and transformed by God's Holy Spirit. Our minds which were once under the rule and control of evil are now allowed to be under the creative direction of the Holy Spirit. Our minds become these open arenas where God's can live and commune with us. Jesus called this being One with the Father.
The New Covenant is the most radical and transforming experience that any human being can experience and will experience. To have the LORD Jesus redeem you and to give you a New Heart is the most wonderful thing in all creation. To have the Holy Spirit renew your mind, transforming the way that you feel, think and act is beyond amazing. To have your mind go from hatred to love, from slavery to freedom, for darkness to light, from lust to purity, from anxiety to peace and from sorrow to joy is beyond amazing.
This experience that God wants to us to share in the New Covenant is as important, as exciting and as amazing as Creation itself. For that is what it truly is - Creation of a whole new human being. A human being with a New Heart and a New Mind.
You see this morning, God doesn't merely forgive us so that we can start from scratch again only to pile up another load of sin in our lives. God isn't interested in us going around the mountain one more time. God is not interested in the same "so and so".
God answers the - "How is this time going to be different from last time?" question. God answers the "What is going to happen that makes sure that we don't end up in this same position or a worst one?"
God is telling us that He desires to live within us - changing both our hearts and our minds. Changing both the way we think and the actions we do. Changing us from the inside out that allows us to victoriously live a life of holiness and full salvation. Changing us so that we can reflect His Image of Holiness, Love and Purity here on earth. Changing us so that we can live the life of being filled and led by His Holy Spirit. Changing us so that we can experience freedom from sin and over sin. Changing us so that the penalty of sin is removed and the power of sin is defeated in our daily lives.
God is not interested in starting a new relationship with us that does not radically transform us. He is not interested in doing a mere clean up job that does nothing but get us back to square one. God knows that in our own power and strength we will return to sin much like a dog returns to its vomit or a pig to its slop. He knows that we cannot change ourselves any more than a leopard can change its spots.
However as John 3:1-16 and Romans 12:1-3 graciously shares with us the LORD wants to give us a new heart and a newness of mind. He wants us to experience a New Birth. He wants us to experience the infilling presence of His Holy Spirit. The Lord wants to give us the tools in which our hearts and minds can line up with Him. All of this is made possible by embracing His Holy Spirit and allowing Him to lead us and guide us. The Good News is that we can have our minds and hearts come into alignment with the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY. The more we connect with the LORD, the more we are open to the LORD the more changes we can experience and the greater life we can live here and now. We can experience what the ancients called "FULL SALVATION". We can experience a life of Victory, Joy and Love today, tomorrow and forever more.
We see the fulfillment of this New Covenant in the life and ministry of Jesus, our Savior and LORD! In Matthew 26:26 - 29 our LORD refers to the Covenant or New Covenant as some manuscripts share as He institutes the Lord's Supper. Listen to the words of Matthew:
Matthew 26:26-29 New King James Version (NKJV)
Jesus Institutes the Lord’s Supper
26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed[a] and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new[b] covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
In this passage Jesus shares with us that it will be through His body and blood that we will experience full and complete forgiveness. It will be through His death and Resurrection that we will experience the New Covenant. It will be through Him that we will be able to experience the New Birth and the infilling presence of His Holy Spirit. It will be through Him that we will become new human beings who are able to live a life of genuine holiness. It will be through Him that we will become new people - people of God, ruled by God's love and dedicated to bringing God's Kingdom here on Earth.
This morning we are invited to the Table of Christ. A Table that voices what Jeremiah wrote down thousands of years ago. A Table that tell us that our LORD reaches out to us to be in relationship with Him. A Table that tells us that our LORD seeks to forgive us fully and wholly. A Table that tells us that our LORD wants to give us a New Heart, Mind and Soul.
It is to this Table we are invited. Today, if you desire to be with Jesus and to have Jesus save and sanctify your soul you are invited to partake in His Communion. If you want your sins forgiven and your life transformed you are invited to partake of His Communion. If you want to testify that Christ has redeemed you and is in process of restoring you into His Image you are invited to His Table. If you want to rejoice in knowing that your are Redeemed and Sanctified you are invited to partake of His Communion. If you want to be One with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit you are invited to share at His Table.
THE INVITATION AND SHARING OF COMMUNION/PRAYER OF COMMITMENT AND BLESSING/SONG OF GRATITUDE AND BLESSING/BENEDICTION